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Ksitigarbha - Protector of Children

Page history last edited by Jenifer Miller 9 years, 11 months ago


                   JIZO - The Protector of Children







Boddhisattvas are enlightened beings that are purposefully just shy of attaining nirvana. Bodhisattvas purpose in life is to help all sentient beings, or those in the human realm of existence, to reach nirvana. According to lecture* and to Shantideva’s* book, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Bodhisattvas must have the following: first they must claim their bodhisattva vow, pay homage and intent, believe in excellence of the bodhichitta (literally the “awakened mind/heart”), give offering and confession, and follow the six paramitas or perfections which include:

  • Generosity
  • Ethical conduct
  • Patience
  • Vigor/diligence
  • Meditation
  • Wisdom



The particular Bodhisattva that will be discussed on this webpage is the Protector of Children and other times known as the Bodhisattva of Hell. In different Asian cultures he has evolved to be venerated for different reasons. Like all other depictions of Bodhisattvas, Jizo is always shown in the human form although he has certain distinguishing characteristics depending on the culture, which will be discussed more in depth in the iconography section. Since Bodhisattvas aren’t fully enlightened beings, they are always depicted in the human form to reiterate the fact that they have chosen to remain in the human realm to help sentient beings out of the cycle of samsara and attain nirvana. Buddhas, however, are fully enlightened beings who have reached nirvana and because of this can sometimes be depicted as a footprint or the wheel of dharma. In Jizo’s human form, he is sometimes depicted as a monk – the only bodhisattva to be portrayed as such. Unlike other Bodhisattva’s he is not found with any adornments or royal attire. Instead he is usually found with a shaved head and the robe of a monk.

However, Jizo has also been depicted as a woman based on the myth of the “Sacred Girl” – you can find more information under the Myths section.


In Japanese culture Jizo has come to be venerated as the Protector of Children, particularly those children that have died early in life, during childbirth, or because of a miscarriage, abortion, etc. More recently though, Jizo’s protective nature has extended to a multitude of other beings and has not only been reserved as the protector of children. In Japan he is also known for protecting expectant mothers, firemen, pilgrims, travelers, and all other beings caught in the six realms of existence. This is just a small list of the types of beings that he protects. For a longer list of the many variations that the modern bodhisattva has come to be venerated for please visit this website: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/jizo1.shtml


In Sanskrit his name is Ksitigarbha, and is known as the Bodhisattva of hell. His vow, which is needed for any Bodhisattva to, states that he will not become fully enlightened until all hells are emptied. In Japanese culture, not only does he guide those in the various realms of hell to escape from cyclic existence, but he also helps guide those children that died before their parents to stay away from hell. For those children that die early in life, the belief is that they remain in a purgatory state because they have not lived long enough to accumulate enough merit. Jizo is venerated to help protect those children from entering hell and to protect their parents from suffering.





          (Statue representing Jizo as Protector of Children)                                (Jizo in hell as Bodhisattva of Hell)



The story of Jizo, or Ksitigarbha, can be found in one the most well known Chinese Mahayana sutras called the sutra of The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.  As legend is told, the sutra was spoken by the Buddha towards the end of his life before his departure from this earth.  Before his death the Buddha spoke the Dharma “within” the Trayastrisma Heaven in remembrance and dedication to his mother, Mayadevi.  Most say that this was the Buddha’s last attempt to “repay” his mother for the kindness she had bestowed upon him during his lifetime. This contextual expression of gratitude is where the common depiction of Jizo in feminine form is derived.  Some say this depiction is also due to the Chinese praise given to Filial piety – or a respect for one’s parents and ancestors. 


The sutra was first translated from the Sanskrit to Chinese in 7th century A.D.  After the death of Sakyamuni Buddha there would be no Buddha on earth until the Bodhisattva Maitreya  who is to become the next Buddha.  As legend has it, the Buddha assigned or delegated Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to act on his behalf – to work in hopes of saving all sentient beings. His vow: "Not until the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha; not until all beings are saved will I certify to Bodhi."



                                                                 Statues of Jizo, Ganman-ga-fuchi,

                                                             Nikko. NikkoTochigi PrefectureJapan


“As A Sacred Girl” - In the Ksitigarbha Sutra the Buddha tells of Ksitigarbha as a Brahmin maiden, named Sacred Girl, who  was deeply troubled when her mother died because of her slanderous conduct during her life.  To try and save her from a bad rebirth or the “tortures of hell,” Ksitigarbha used whatever money she could to buy offerings to give to the Buddha and prayed to him to spare her mother’s soul.  The Buddha told her to go home, sit and meditate if she truly wished to know where her mother was.  Upon which, Sacred Girl was transported to hell only to find that her many efforts to save her mother gave her mother enough merit to be transported to heaven.  Although relieved, Sacred Girl was deeply troubled and empathetic for those who were in hell.  There, she vowed to dedicate the rest of her life to relieve beings of their suffering in their future lives.  




Jizo is depicted in many different ways and forms across the regions in which he/she is praised, although the alleviation of suffering for the living and the dead is maintained through every different depiction.



 In Japan, Ksitigarbha, or Jizo Bodhisattva is iconically depicted as a young monk. As a monk, the Jizo statue is depicted bald and in a simple monk robe with no adornments of any kind. According to http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/jizo1.shtml the Jizo Bodhisattva statue is the only Bodhisattva depicted as a monk. Statues of the Jizo Bodhisattva in Japan have four distinguishing features.        

 The first of these features is a staff that the Jizo Bodhisattva is holding in one of his hands.



 The second feature is the small object he is holding in his other hand. This small round object is actually a wish-granting stone. According to http://www.artsmia.org/viewer/detail.php?v=2&id=3524, this wish-granting stone represents the Jizo Bodhisattva’s “power to answer the prayers of languishing souls” while also representing spiritual wealth. 




 The third feature of Jizo Bodhisattva statue is the clouds he is standing upon. According  to http://www.artsmia.org/viewer/detail.php?v=2&id=3524, the clouds that the Jizo Bodhisattva is standing    upon symbolizes “Jizo descending from the heavens—actually floating down on the clouds—on his way to the  Netherworld to help languishing souls.” (4) The fourth distinguishing feature to the Jizo Bodhisattva statue is the lotus blossom-that is facing up towards the Jizo- as it emerges from the metaphorical clouds. The lotus flower is a symbol of purity that is representative of compassionate beings.              

                                                                             (all information and images found: http://www.artsmia.org/viewer/detail.php?v=2&id=3524) 




In China, Ksitigarbha is known as the Dizang Bodhisattva. Here, the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is still distinguished from other Bodhisattva statues because of his staff and the wish-granting jewel in his hands. Although, the Bodhisattva’s most distinguishing features are still present, his pose is noticeably different. In China, the Dizang Bodhisattva is sitting down on a lotus throne, compared to the Japanese version of Jizo in which he is standing upon a lotus blossom. Also, noticeably different from Jizo, the Dizang Bodhisattva is not a monk. The statue of the Dizang is adorned with colorful robes, he is sitting on a throne, and he is wearing an adorned crown on his head. These are features not associated with simplicity or monkhood, but of luxury and veneration.





There are many popular sites of veneration for the guardian Jizo that are found within a variety of different countries.  Commonly, statues of the guardian are found by the roadside or in graveyards; these are often found in groupings of six, depicting each of the Six Realms. His statues often suggest the same religious significance associated with stupas. Tradition remains that parents pray to Mizuko Jizo and in return this will shorten the duration of time that their prematurely deceased child will have to suffer in the underworld.  Little piles of stones and pebbles are placed among these locations of worship, in faith that their acts of merit will assist their child’s penance while in the underworld.  It is believed that dying before your parents afflicts a great deal sorrow upon them as well as others, thus, the stillborn, miscarried or aborted children are sent to hell.

            It is important to remember there are a variety of ways to venerate these bodhisattva’s. Some of the more popular methods of venerations include putting children’s outfits, particularly a red bib or a red hat; Japanese tradition connects the color red with the expelling of demons and illnesses. Gifts and children’s toys are also commonly seen around Jizo statues also symbolizing acts of merit as well as the parents who are rejoicing because his or her child has been relieved of their illness or disease.



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   Derived within East Asian Buddhism, this bodhisattva’s presence is continually expanding into different regions. In China, a popular pilgrimage is to Jiuhua Mountain; located in Anhui and often referred to as Ksitigarbha’s seat. The peak provides a generous thrown for the bodhisattva, seeing that it covers one-hundred and twenty square kilometers. Jiuhua’s large area allows for around one hundred and fifty temples to reside within its many peaks. From the high mountain skies to the blue oceans abyss, people venture to this bodhisattva in hope that their prayers will be answered. In Hawaii, Jizo is commonly referred to as the guardian of the sea. His statues can be found around coastal and cliff areas, where there have been previous encounters of children being swept away by fierce ocean currents and drowning.


            Finally, countries practice different spiritual movements or transformations when venerating Jizo.  These are a few of the different mantras that are found amongst Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism.

The mantra of Ksitigarbha is as follows,

            “nama samantabuddhānā, ha ha ha, sutanu svāhā”


In Chinese Buddhism, the following mantra is recited to ask Ksitigarbha for protecti

“ámó dìzàng wáng púsà (南無地藏王菩)”                                                                         


In Tibet, the following mantra is associated with Ksitigarbha:

            “ o kitigarbha bodhisattva ya ”


In Shingon, or Japanese, a mantra used in public religious services is:


            “ on kaka kabi sanmaei sowaka "







                                                                      Ten Cakras of Ksitigarbha Sutra


                                          地藏菩薩本願経 or 地藏本願経                                        


                 敦煌本仏説地蔵菩薩経                                                                                            大乘大集地藏十輪経


"Most scholars generally consider texts about Jizo, or Ksitigarbha, to be products of China rather than India, followed centuries later by Japanese renditions and additions. The Jizō cult in China and later in Japan developed in phases, during which Jizō became associated with different functions and iconography. Once in Japan, the Jizō cult developed along distinctly Japanese lines, although it retained many of its earlier Chinese characteristics. The various Jizō texts, along with Jizō’s changing roles, are presented below in chronological order."

                                                                                                   (further/complete information:http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/jizo1.shtml)










Gayley, Holly. "Intro to the Mahayana." RLST 3300. Boulder, CO. Spring 2010. Lecture.


Shantideva. The Way of the Bodhisattva. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, Inc., 2006. Print












Comments (30)

elias.dequiroz@colorado.edu said

at 9:02 am on Apr 11, 2010

I really liked the page. It was set up well and very easy to follow along. I thought it was interesting that he was depicted as a monk but also depicted with fancy robes and adornments across different cultures. Good job, it was very informative.

spilot said

at 9:31 am on Apr 11, 2010

Very informative, well done.

stephanie.franchs@... said

at 12:29 pm on Apr 11, 2010

I really liked the myth about the "Sacred Girl" which lead to her passion to be this bodhisattva. Also the zooming in on the different parts of the image was a really good idea to show what you are discussing.

Liz Chavez said

at 2:11 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Great job! I especially liked the video of the young girl offering flowers to Jizo. The page is well laid out with plenty of information and pictures. The flow between the sections was not choppy, either. It felt like one cohesive page and not several parts.

Liz Chavez said

at 2:45 pm on Apr 11, 2010

(I forgot to add some critique and a rating, oops!) This page could benefit from some extra media of some sort like another video or something interactive. 4.89/5

Amy Sereda said

at 4:19 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Very nice page. I found it very informative and liked the abundance of images. Good work! 5/5

austin.rand@colorado.edu said

at 5:10 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Great page, its funny how everyone uses the same lotus image. Two quick questions: 1) Why are Jizo stautaries often found by the roadside? whats the significance? 2) I have never heard of statues having the same significance as stupas (where buddha relics are kept), Why is Jizo's statue an exemption to this rule? Overall really well done, I think this might be the most intergrated project I havee seen yet with all the sections flowing together nicely.

Noga Vardy said

at 5:16 pm on Apr 11, 2010

I think this page is very informative and well organized. There are many great images that show a variety of images of Jizo in detail. I also really enjoyed reading the myths, they were very interesting and detailed. Very well done! 5/5

Scott Mulligan said

at 7:13 pm on Apr 11, 2010

Great job! The organization of the page is very well done and you the images and videos work great with the information provided! The video was very interesting to watch first hand the girl venerating. I think you did great so 5/5!

kelsey wentz said

at 7:29 pm on Apr 11, 2010

The "Sacred Girl" story is really interesting, as is pretty much everything about this Bodisattva. The images are great and I think you guys did a great job with organization. I think this is a fantastic page. Good work!

millicent.rugg@... said

at 9:59 am on Apr 12, 2010

I really like that Jizo is the Bodhisattva of hell, but also guides children or others who could not achieve merit before their death away from hell. I also liked that you included in depth analysis of each country and how in different places he is considered slighly different. Good job with the layout and the organization of the page. Great job overall.

kodi said

at 10:58 am on Apr 12, 2010

Great page! I loved all of the pictures showing the bodhisattva it its natural form. There was tons of information that I learned from your page! 4/5

sydney said

at 10:59 am on Apr 12, 2010

At first I thought it was strange that Jizo was both the protector of children and the bodhisattva of hell, but upon reading further it definitely made sense. I think it is interesting how many similarities exist between world religions, in this case between the concept of baptism and Jizo's role of protecting children from entering the realms of hell.
I think this page is very well organized and the images and videos compliment the research nicely. 5/5

jeremy said

at 11:09 am on Apr 12, 2010

I like the set up how it starts with background info and than goes into all the research and images you guys found. I liked that you included a video i think that helps alot. The info was well researched and i feel like you can learn alot from your page. Good work guys.

ashley.householter@... said

at 12:47 pm on Apr 12, 2010

I thought that this particular Bodhisattva was very interesting and you presented in such a way that really clarified all the different ways Jizo participates in the lives of the laity. I absolutely love the statue image you used in the image gallery with the infants, it is what initially caught my interest. Your information was very broad with little repetition of facts, which I really appreciate. I think the formatting of the sections, paragraphs, and pictures could use a little work to make the page easier to follow overall, but, of course, with several people editing a consistent format is difficult to achieve. All-in-all, an excellent job!

chelsea.wilkerson@... said

at 6:07 pm on Apr 12, 2010

This is a very unique page with a lot of very informative work. I really like how you focused on the Bodhisattva in different cultures, showing the differences and similarities. The video of the girl worshiping the bodhisattva was a great addition. The page is organized very nicely and flows almost as if one person wrote it!! Way to go!

daisukesugita said

at 7:02 pm on Apr 12, 2010

This webpage has an excellent discription about Jizo and overall, the images posted and motion picture of youtube are really effective to give the readers the idea of who jizo is. In the section of images and iconography, the comparioson of Jizo in Japan and China offers a lot of good regional jizo anaylsis.

nicholas.heyward@... said

at 7:58 pm on Apr 13, 2010

lots of information and images' well done! I liked the choice of images that seemed to have a children theme..for the protector of children! Overall very good job! 4

lynn.miller@colorado.edu said

at 7:41 am on Apr 14, 2010

Interesting page. Good job including variations in different regions. Like others, I enjoyed the video. Nice work!

Nicole said

at 10:43 am on Apr 14, 2010

This is an interesting Bhodisattva. I wouldve like to see the vow written out or perhaps a video of it being sung. But I thought you guys did a good good at exemplifing this Bhodisattva and explaining how he/she is not the keeping of hell but instead attempts to keep innocent peoples and children out of hell.

phillip.dunlap@colorado.edu said

at 11:10 am on Apr 14, 2010

I didn't think you should have started with the background. Typically wiki style pages focus only on their specific issue, as introducing the generality would need to be done at the head of each article, which would be a tremendous redundancy. Other than that, nice article, I liked it!

Ashley Herzberger said

at 12:23 pm on Apr 14, 2010

I also was intrigued to read this page because I didn't understand how one Bodhisattva could be both the protector of children and the Bodhisattva of Hell. The information provided on this page helped resolve my confusion. I really appreciated the addition of the video - interactivity is always a nice change from reading text. I would have liked to see the mantras translated and explained in a bit more detail. 4/5.

cameron.barras@... said

at 12:57 pm on Apr 15, 2010

I really enjoyed your page and found the "sacred girl story" to be very interesting. The cohesiveness of your page made it easy to follow and a pleasure to read. I agree that a few more videos could help with the interactive aspect of the page but other then that well done! 4/5!

Keith Ohler said

at 3:46 pm on Apr 15, 2010

Please don't say "Asian" in the following sentence from your page, "In different Asian cultures he has evolved to be venerated for different reasons." You mean to say Buddhist rather than Asian. For one Asian countries are not necessarily Buddhist for example Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Russia are all Asian countries but there are few if any Buddhists there. Also not all people who identify as Racial/Ethnic Asians are Buddhist btw. I did like your variety of pics though. 2 out of 5.

kristen.cretecos@... said

at 12:17 pm on Apr 16, 2010

I thought the organization was great - very easy to follow along. Also, I liked how you broke the pictures down in order to analyze them piece by piece, that was very original! I would have also liked to see a vow but liked the mantras and the video very much! good job! 4.5/5

Jeff Gary said

at 2:24 pm on Apr 16, 2010

Nice page, sweet video. I also like the embedded links. 4/5

Chieh Lun Tang said

at 2:56 pm on Apr 16, 2010

This page is very well organized and very informative. It would've been nice if the vow was shown in a video or something.

christine.cayot@... said

at 3:33 pm on Apr 16, 2010

This page is very nicely set up. I really liked how in the iconography the images were small so you could be reading and looking at the images at the same time. Especially the Japan iconography, it was nice to have the image broken up focusing on each part. I enjoyed reading this page and felt I learned a lot. Nice work 5

Joshua.J.Smith@Colorado.EDU said

at 9:55 am on Apr 17, 2010

Very Interesting. The video was a great way to see commonplace veneration. Is Ksitigarbha discussed at all in traditions outside China or Japan? 4/5

hgayley@... said

at 9:42 pm on Apr 17, 2010

Lively prose and elegant layout with wonderful images! I like that you start by explaining what a bodhisattva is before getting into the question, "Who is Jizo?" You do a terrific job of succinctly describing his role as the protector of children and guardian of hell. Did you mention that Jizo is also understood to protect travelers—this would answer Austin's question about why one often finds statues of this bodhisattva at roadsides.

Each section is chock full of details! In your discussion of his iconography, I appreciate how you highlight Jizo's unusual portrayal as a monk and provide close-ups for the implements he holds. In the veneration section, you might have been more clear that a prominent modern form of worship is the practice of mizuko kuyo, which is a ritual performed to conduct unborn fetuses (either by miscarriage or abortion) to a pure land. This is the reason Jizo images are produced to look like children and adorned with bibs and presented with toys as gifts.

Overall, strong presentation! 4.5 – Prof HG

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